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Attacking Oppression with Laughter

Attacking Oppression with Laughter
Wed, 4/11/2012 - by Lauren Kelley
This article originally appeared on AlterNet

Photo: MK Carrol. Knitted Womb.

The recent spate of right-wing attacks against reproductive rights, the ongoing foreclosure crisis propagated by Wall Street banks, racist police actions that never seem to end - the injustices can feel overwhelming. But rather than give up, activists have been relentlessly fighting back.

There's the Occupy Movement fighting economic injustice (among other things), of course, but there are also many other activists fighting for our rights all over the country. Lately, many of those activists have been using creativity, and sometimes humor, to get their message across. While not a new concept, creative activism does seem to be having a "moment" right now as activists look for ways to draw attention to the recent battles being waged around the country and the world.

Below are several examples of recent actions that go beyond the traditional protest march. Some of them have made us laugh while others make us think, but they've all been successful in that they've grabbed the media's attention and delivered activist messages to the masses.

Several of the funniest recent actions have been carried out by reproductive health supporters fighting back against the onslaught of right-wing attacks against reproductive rights: Komen for the Cure deciding to defund Planned Parenthood (and then backtracking), Catholic bishops launching an all-out assault on contraception, dozens of Republican-led legislative attempts to undermine Roe v. Wade. As Amanda Marcotte recently told Tracy Clark-Flory in a piece for Salon:

"Things have just gotten to the point of absurdity that you can't react without being absurd yourself." Thanks to recent attacks on even contraception, "ordinary women who often don't pay attention to politics are finally beginning to pay attention," she says. "And I think that means more opportunities to communicate through humor instead of the typical outrage thing. Humor can be very clarifying."

So we'll look at several humorous reproductive rights actions first.

1. Knitting vaginas and uteruses for anti-choice Congress people.

The Snatchel Project has a simple rallying cry: "Let's make a uterus or VJJ for each male rep in congress!" The point is to send the following message to anti-choice Congresspeople: "Hands off my uterus! Here's one of your own!"

Here are the simple instructions for participation, via the group's website:

  1. Knit or crochet a vagina or uterus
  2. Print a message to enclose
  3. Mail it to your male Senator or Congressional Representative
  4. We're in the process of arranging hand delivery to congressional offices in Washington, until then, go ahead and mail yours in!
  5. Record your items in this spreadsheet so we can track which representatives still need to receive a "gift"!
  6. Don't forget to thank your representative if he respects women and supports our rights.

Learn how to knit, follow the patterns, and you too can send your government representatives a message they're unlikely to forget.

2. A sex strike for reproductive rights.

The sex strike is an idea that's been around at least since Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata. But in recent years, such actions have caught on again. For instance, last year women in the town of Barbacoas, Colombia, launched a "crossed legs" movement, forgoing all sexual activity until officials agreed to build a safe, direct road to their town. Whereas hunger strikes and other protests had failed to get results, the sex strike worked.

It's with that in mind that a group of reproductive rights activists recently announced a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek action with the tagline, "If our reproductive choices are denied, so are yours."

The No Access Sex Strike for Women's Rights urges supporters to make the pledge to cross your legs from April 28 to May 5. Use the extra time to write your elected officials and demand respect for women's rights and bodies. Register to vote, and in November, vote these overstepping, woman-hating, hypocritical windbags out!

3. Legislators introduce sarcastic legislation to counter anti-choice bills.

Some pro-choice legislators have taken a "fight fire with sarcasm" approach to battling the dangerous anti-choice bills that have been introduced by Republicans in recent months.

There was the "life begins at ejaculation," aka the "every sperm is sacred" amendment introduced by Oklahoma Democrat Constance Johnson to counter the state's proposed "personhood" law.

Then there was the Virginia Democrat who introduced legislation asserting that if women have undergo an ultrasound to get an abortion, then men should have to get a rectal exam before receiving a prescription for Viagra.

At the Women's Media Center website, journalist Peggy Simpson rounds up even more such proposals:

—An Illinois legislator, Kelly Cassidy, proposed that men seeking Viagra be required to watch a video showing the treatment for persistent erections, remarking, "It's not a pretty procedure to watch."

—A Wisconsin legislator running for Congress, Kelda Helen Roys, proposed an amendment that any man seeking a prescription for Viagra have a cardiac stress test first.

—In Missouri, Representative Stacey Newman moved to restrict vasectomies except for men at risk of death or serious bodily harm.

—In Ohio, a bill introduced by Senator Nina Turner would require men seeking Viagra to see a sex therapist and receive counseling about "pursuing celibacy as a viable lifestyle choice."

4. Reproductive health supporters get sarcastic on their lawmakers' Facebook pages

One of the more recent (and hilarious) activist trends to take off is the sarcasm-bombing of anti-choice Republicans' Facebook walls. Anti-choicers like Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Virginia Rep. Ryan McDougle and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have all been treated to a barrage of Facebook comments like this:

5. Activists turn Bank of America into a living room to fight foreclosures

As part of a week of actions that fell under the umbrella of FightBAC (Fight Bank of America) earlier this month, Occupy Wall Street protesters moved their living room furniture - a couch, coffee table, rug, and even a decorative fern - into a New York City BofA branch. The activists "moved into" the bank to protest all the people who've lost their homes because of BofA's sketchy foreclosure practices and encouraged others to follow suit on March 15.

  1. The Yes Men's recent shenanigans draw attention to stop-and-frisk policy, factory workers rights, and more

    A list of creative protest actions wouldn't be complete without a mention of the Yes Men, the beloved "genderless, loose-knit association of some 300 impostors worldwide" whose front men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonano, are best known for impersonating white-collar executives to fight corporate wrongdoing.

    Recently Bichlbaum and Bonano have been helping progressive groups carry out their own actions through the Yes Lab, a sort of creative activism workshop series. Some recent Yes Lab projects include "Three strikes, you're in!" with People Enraged by Racist Policing, which purported to be an NYPD program to compensate stop-and-frisk victims with McDonald's Happy Meals, and the Phone Story iPhone and Android app, which was created with Molleindustria to teach iPhone users about the human rights problems associated with the manufacturing of consumer electronics. (The app was initially approved by Apple, surely in error, and was eventually pulled.)

  2. Clowns invade Occupy Wall Street

    In a recent article for The Nation, journalist Nathan Schneider describes the formation of the + Brigades, a subset of the Occupy movement that was recently launched to bring more lightheartedness into the movement's protests:

    [Amin] Husain, who with [Natasha] Singh was one of the earliest OWS organizers, took part in the first intifada as a teenager in the West Bank. But he identifies neither with principled nonviolence nor, for instance, anarchism. The movement's problem, he and Singh thought, wasn't a matter of violence or not; it was a lack of imagination. There was too small a repertoire.

    "Don't negate the things you don't like," said Austin Guest at that inaugural + Brigades meeting in the church basement. "Add the things you do, so we can get a real diversity of tactics." People started pitching ideas like a Song & Dance Brigade, a Naked Bike Bloc, a Male Prostitution on Wall Street Brigade ("We will do anything for money!") and more. A group of military veterans planned to plug in with teams of their own. Each brigade is meant to be radical, well-rehearsed and sensational, providing new ways for new people to get involved in the movement and, as Singh likes to say, "to do a ninja on the media."

    The + Brigades debuted on Leap Day, February 29, during a rainy Midtown protest against several choice corporate skyscrapers. The Brigadiers gave reporters pictures of men in pants-less business suits and a dancing clown in handcuffs.

    Obviously a list of creative actions could go on and on. But hopefully this list gives you an idea of how much creativity is flowing in activist circles these days and inspires you to take part in whatever way is most meaningful to you.

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